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A quantum leap
Published in Ahram Online on 06 - 07 - 2021

Last Saturday, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi inaugurated the 3 July naval base in Gargoub equidistant from the border with Libya and the Mohamed Naguib military base, opened in July 2018 west of Alexandria. The 3 July naval base, now the largest facility of its kind in Egypt, is part of the Egyptian military's drive to upgrade the capacities of the navy. The plans include building five naval bases to defend Egypt's 2,200km of coastline. The newly created Southern Fleet is already stationed at the recently inaugurated Berenice base on the Red Sea.
The inauguration ceremony was attended by Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the chairman of Libya's Presidency Council Mohamed Al-Menfi, and officials from other of Egypt's allies. The ceremony also saw the launching of the Qader 2021 military drill, a comprehensive training exercise involving all branches of the Armed Forces.
The progress achieved in the modernisation drive can only be described as a quantum leap. Military advancement is part and parcel of the ambitious comprehensive development project Egypt initiated seven years ago, something the inaugural document of the 3 July naval base captures eloquently when it described the setting up of the base as "part of our responsibility to strengthen the comprehensive power of the state, to maximise Egyptian capacities in all fields and sectors, foremost of which is the Armed Forces whose role is to protect the state's wealth, and in pursuance of the process of strengthening the pillars of the Egyptian national security in all strategic directions."
The keynote speech by the commander of the Egyptian Navy Lieutenant General Ahmed Khaled conveyed five key messages. The first reflected the growth of Egypt's naval capacities within the context of the comprehensive modernisation programme. The 3 July base is the latest cornerstone in the development of logistic hubs that will serve Egyptian forces in the Red Sea and Mediterranean — two of the most vitally strategic regions in the world — in their mission to safeguard national security, protect maritime economic resources, and combat terrorism, illegal migration and smuggling. Built on 10 million square metres, the new facility houses 48 state-of-the-art vessels, including two FREMM (Bergamini) multi-purpose frigates, a Gowind-class corvette, a Type 209 submarine, and numerous long- and short-range patrol craft.
The composition of vessels covers all the operational, logistical, structural and training requirements of the Egyptian navy. Above all, it meets the need for rapid deployment to address potential threats. It is noteworthy that the countries that produce some of this hardware only offer it to countries they trust and that have the capacity to use it effectively. This is the case with the Italian-made FREMM frigates and the German-made 209/1400 type submarine, one of the most advanced in the world. Some of the ships are multipurpose vessels, capable of performing air, surface, and below the surface naval tasks, as is the case with the Gowind-class corvette, an Egyptian-made vessel manufactured in the framework of the French-Egyptian partnership between the Alexandrian Arsenal and the French Naval Group.
The base's second message is the added value it contributes to the Egyptian development process. This is a feature that characterises the world's great navies, including the US Navy which has long performed strategic development functions both at home and abroad. In the case of the new Egyptian base, the dual military-civilian function can be seen in the commercial wharf, which is equipped for logistic operations that serve commercial maritime traffic. After all, 90 per cent of world trade is transported by sea, a large proportion of which travels through the Suez Canal.
A quick glance at the map of the north coast shows the locations of the maritime bases, the 3 July, Mohamed Naguib, and Arish, align with three axes of Egyptian development (the New Valley, the western Delta, and the Suez Canal Corridor). The same, of course, applies to the Red Sea and the vital maritime route from the Suez Canal to the Bab Al-Mandeb. Clearly, Egypt is gearing up for a phase of growing trade and economic cooperation, starting with Libya which is on the threshold of recovery.
A quantum leap
The third message to be taken from Ahmed Khaled's address relates to Egyptian military diplomacy. The 3 July base is fully equipped to facilitate the joint training drills and manoeuvres Egypt conducts with allied and friendly nations. It was no coincidence that the Qader 2021 drills were launched in tandem with the inauguration of the base. In the last few years Egypt's navy has taken part in 34 joint drills with 17 nations and 70 transit naval exercises with some of the most important navies in the world. Some of these took place within the framework of military cooperation agreements with Eastern Mediterranean states (as was the case with the Medusa drills with Greece and Cyprus), while others were conducted as part of ongoing series of military drills with world powers, from the US and Europe to Russia. To illustrate the variety of theatres involved, the Egyptian-Russian Friendship Bridge 3 drills last year were carried out in the Black Sea.
Activity in the north is complemented by similar activities with allies to the south, most notably with Sudan, Djibouti and Kenya in Africa, and Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain in the eastern Red Sea and the Gulf. Not only do these drills with regional and international parties testify to the diversity and depth of Egypt's relations, but they also reflect the growing quality of preparedness of the Egyptian naval forces which, in turn, has attracted Egypt's partners to working more closely with them in various domains, not least being defence manufactures.
The fourth message is one of peace and security. As Lieutenant General Khaled said: "Without security and stability the region cannot have development." The Middle East is in the midst of one of the most conflict-ridden eras of its history. Egypt has not been directly involved in any of the conflicts, but it has been adversely affected by them, and in some cases immediately threatened. The bottom line is that Egypt is determined to avoid futile and costly wars, to which end it has developed an effective military deterrent. The damage caused by the conflicts and crises that have afflicted the region during the past decade will cost trillions to repair. According to UN experts, restoring conditions just to the point before collapse will take 45 to 50 years in Syria, 26 to 40 years in Yemen, and 15 to 20 years in Libya.
In his speech at the inauguration of the 3 July naval base, Brigadier General Yasser Wahba summed up the Egyptian military's creed. "We are not advocates of wars, conflicts, or disputes. But if we are forced to fight in the defence of our rights and the gains of our people we are prepared and willing. History has affirmed to one and all that while Egypt possesses great reserves of patience it will never compromise on its rights."
Wahba continued: "Egypt is well aware that its national security is linked to Arab national security. Egypt's unceasing quest to acquire military power derives from its desire to achieve peace."
It was not surprising that the question of the dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) arose during the inauguration of the 3 July naval base. In an address during a luncheon on the base, President A-Sisi said that Cairo seeks to conclude a binding legal agreement on the dam in accordance with international principles and conventions. He stressed that Egypt appreciates and understands Ethiopia's development needs but that development should not be pursued at the expense of others. In this context, he said: "Egypt has never threatened anyone in its history, even though it possesses the military strength, only a small part of which was seen in the Qader 2021 manoeuvre."
The fifth message is clearly indicated in the choice of name for the base, the 3 July. As Lieutenant General Khaled said, "it is the name of a great memory." Development and modernisation are both a working agenda and a philosophy. Egypt defeated the Muslim Brotherhood through the unity of its citizens whose shared history, culture and civilisation proved no less formidable than conventional weapons. Weapons, alone, cannot defeat extremist ideas and organisations that espouse and practise violence, and on the march that led to 3 July 2013, the turning point that marked the beginning of the process of the recovery of the Egyptian state, it was not weapons that won the day but the spirit of the Egyptian people.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 July, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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